A DEEP admiration for Nelson Mandela inspired Brazilian social entrepreneur Eduardo Lyra, 28, to come to South Africa to volunteer to help with social projects for a month.
Coming from an underprivileged background spurred Lyra to start the Instituto Gerando Falcões (Generating Hawks) in his hometown of Guarulhos. The falcon is a metaphor to inspire the people involved in the project to fly high and see opportunities in spite of their circumstances.
Since it was founded three years ago, the institute has helped about 300 000 young people through sport, culture and job opportunities.
Lyra's admirable achievements have been recognised by the World Economic Forum (WEF). He was chosen as one of 15 young Brazilians who can change the world as part of the Global Shapers. Forbes Magazine also named him one of the 30 most influential young people under the age of 30 in Brazil.
Most recently, he had the honour of carrying the Olympic torch for the Rio Olympic Games in the southern state of Santa Catarina.
In spite of his many accolades, however, Lyra has remained humble and focused on empowering the youth.
Growing up, he lived in a shack where there was no flooring and his makeshift crib was a bath. There would be nights where he and his sister would have no supper. It was during this time that his mother was his biggest motivator.
“We often had shootings outside our home. During the nights she would shield us with her body and say the bullets can rather hit her than us,” he said.
Lyra’s personal connection with South Africa also comes from Nelson Mandela – the man who inspired him to give back to others.
“He was the greatest leader in the world. I read about how a bodyguard who worked for Mr Mandela said he was the only president he worked for who knew his name, his wife’s name and his children's names, and would always ask about them. Mandela would even serve this man tea, who should have been serving him,” said Lyra.
Brazil’s consul-general in Cape Town, Carlos Alberto Asfora, said he truly believed individuals could make a difference.
“As an individual, Eduardo can make a big difference through the example of his own life. It can make people more aware of their own possibilities,” said Asfora.
He said for people who come from an underprivileged background it is important to hear from people who have surmounted difficulties.
“Lyra is a living example of somebody who achieved a lot and reached out to the world. The fact that the World Economic Forum named him among the top 15 youth who can change the world has a lot of power. Such power can work miracles,” said Asfora.
Lyra and his wife Mayara are going to be based at the Good Hope Studies school in Newlands for the next month. Here he will learn English and volunteer at various organisations in Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha.